A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Chris Lewis: Alternatives to incarceration work, it’s time for common sense justice reform

My name is Chris Lewis and I’ve been in recovery since August 11, 2013.

For so many years I knew something was wrong with me, even as a kid, but I couldn’t put the puzzle together. I had loving parents but they faced their own challenges. I grew up thinking my childhood was “normal” in spite of the fact that I was routinely beaten and experienced sexual abuse. As a child, I acted out and even though I performed well in my classes, I was constantly getting in trouble with my parents and the law.

Chris Lewis with his children (Photo courtesy the Lewis family)

I was in high school when I first starting selling and using drugs. That was when I first experienced the sickness of addiction. It was also during this time that my mom was diagnosed with cancer. My mom was the most important person in my world. She suffered for years before she passed away in early 1998. After she died, I went off the deep end. I sunk deeper into addiction and had to sell more and more drugs to be able to afford my increasingly expensive habit. It was during that time my first son was born, Elijah. I had a child but I was not a father – when you are addicted to drugs there is simply nothing else that can rival that priority, and consequently, I went to prison shortly after Elijah was born.

I received no treatment while incarcerated and when I was released from prison I immediately returned to my old behavior. Within a year of my release, I was re-arrested for more drug crimes. By this time, I had a second son, Logan who wound up in the care of Child Protective Services. It wasn’t until the summer of 2013 I was introduced to an alternative to incarceration – treatment. When I first arrived at The Healing Place I was scared to death. I was ignorant about recovery but I could follow directions, and I did. I got a sponsor, built a support group, held myself accountable. I finally got honest with myself and others. I worked a 12 step program. At 38, I was finally becoming a man, learning that my thinking was messed up and my behavior was unacceptable. I finally found recovery and a new way of life.

Soon after graduating from The Healing Place I got a job laying brick and started getting things back. I got everything back tenfold. I’ve since had a daughter, who I named Marilyn, after my mother. In October of 2016 I got custody of my son Logan, he lives with me and Marilyn in a house that I bought. I’ve held the same job for four years and now work with people who suffer from substance abuse disorder, including folks who are formerly incarcerated, every chance I get.

This is what compelled me to share my story – Kentucky has the fastest growing prison population in the country. More Kentucky kids have a parent in prison or jail or have had a parent in prison or jail than kids in almost any other state in the nation. My sons were left without a parent because of my addiction and my incarceration. Alternatives to incarceration that focus on the underlying issues like substance abuse and mental health yield much better outcomes than jail and prison. We just marked Father’s Day. It’s the perfect time to make a commitment to supporting Fathers across Kentucky by supporting common sense justice reform.

My life isn’t perfect but it’s mine. I can say the best day in my madness isn’t as good as my worst day in recovery. I would like to dedicate this to all the Kentuckians suffering from addiction in and out of prison who are ignorant of the solution, my mother and my brother Dale who saved my life.

Shelbyville resident Chris Lewis is sharing his recovery journey in an effort to promote common sense justice reforms

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